Christen Press returns to Angel City training; NWSL MVP front-runners: Full Time

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I ate pizza out of a box with the Washington Spirit’s players on it last week, and I looked forward to telling you all weekend. I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan, Steph Yang and Jeff Rueter — welcome to Full Time!

Want more? Listen to “Full Time with Meg Linehan”, featuring new co-host Tamerra Griffin. New episodes drop every Thursday.

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Christen Press returns after long ACL recovery

It’s been a difficult road through recovery for Christen Press. The Angel City FC forward tore her ACL in June 2022 and continues to work her way back after a lengthy rehabilitation that included four surgeries – the latest coming the same month as the 2023 Women’s World Cup opening game.

The two-time World Cup winner has been training on her own for months, but she will make her official return to the Angel City team environment on Tuesday.

“My first day, I’ll do the warm-up and the passing pattern with the team, but it will still be the first time I’ve done a legitimate passing pattern with a bunch of bodies on the field and checking angles because it’s just been one-on-one training for two years,” Press told Meg Linehan on Monday.

Press had only eight appearances for Angel City before her injury nearly two years (to the day) ago. She was the first player to sign with the NWSL expansion team in 2022, agreeing to a reported $700,000, three-year contract – among the highest-paying deals at the time.


Christen Press navigates the unknown in comeback effort from four surgeries

Press, 35, originally wanted to keep her return quiet with a closed practice, but after some thought, decided she’d rather celebrate the milestones of her career that she has left.

“Who knows what’s going to happen after this first team training?” She questioned. “So if this is something we can all celebrate, let’s just go for it.”

Press has long been a staple of the U.S. women’s national team. In 155 appearances, she’s scored 65 goals. The U.S. isn’t lacking in the forward position right now but with Press’ pedigree, she could quickly make a case for herself if she finds her form.

Press and Tobin Heath also announced the return of The RE—CAP SHOW, premiering Thursday, June 13.

Press an unlikely fit for the Olympics

Meg asked Press about her Olympic aspirations. Her focus is shaped by previous pain that she still feels after missing the World Cup last summer:

“I never really looked at the Olympics. With all the trauma of missing the World Cup, then watching the World Cup, then doing the show for the World Cup, I was like, ‘I can’t do this again with the Olympics,’ because no matter how chill or zen I seem when I talk about it, there’s no way your mind can’t start doing the math, right? There’s no way. I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not like every other athlete, I can handle this.’ Then I’ll catch myself in the middle of the night counting how many weeks I have left. You can’t stop that. You can’t stop the dreaming, and you want that. That’s part of it, but it’s also the torturous part of it, and the balance of trying to believe you can do something incredibly hard and the balance of not getting too excited.”

You may not be able to watch her on the field for the U.S. this summer, but you can still get plenty of Press. The forward, along with Tobin Heath, announced the return of The RE—CAP SHOW, premiering Thursday, June 13.


Early look at NWSL MVP candidates

June is the last full month in the NWSL before the break mandated by the new collective bargaining agreement and the Olympics in late July. This summer will also feature a new tournament that begins concurrently with the Summer Games between NWSL and Liga MX Femenil teams.

As we near the halfway point of the season, some clear MVP standouts have already emerged.

KC Current and the Orlando Pride top the table with the exact same record (8-4-0); the Current leads the way on the first tiebreaker of goal differential. Both teams are also making the case for best offseason signing with the Pride’s Barbra Banda and the Current’s Temwa Chawinga battling it out in the Golden Boot and MVP races – the Portland Thorns’ Sophia Smith leads the goal category with nine in 11 games. Banda has eight goals in eight games and Chawinga added two more this weekend in a 5-2 win over Seattle Reign to bring her to seven goals in 13 games.


The MVP race, right now, is these three: Banda averaging a goal every 70 minutes; Chawinga leading the way, combining with Bia Zaneratto and Vanessa DiBernardo in Kansas City; and Smith helping her Thorns continue their early-season turnaround. Maybe the best measuring stick at this point will be what these teams can do without their stars — something Portland might have to do next week.

For more on that…

Smith embraces s—housery

Sophia Smith provided another perfect dose of meme fodder thanks to some (potential!) s—housery in the waning moments of Portland’s 1-0 win over North Carolina this weekend. Three minutes after Smith got subbed out in stoppage time, we got another dose of NWSL chaos and instant lore.

The ball came off a Courage player right next to the Thorns bench and Smith went to the ground. The ball ended up under the seats. Referee Danielle Chesky noticed, and Smith picked up her second yellow for time-wasting.

Smith had a giant smile that soon turned to a look of disbelief as she got escorted by a staffer into the tunnel.

Honestly, I love seeing this new side of Smith. Is she the heir to Megan Rapinoe’s love of s—housery and testing the boundaries of what’s funny on the field? You have to know when to execute it (maybe sitting on a yellow for time-wasting isn’t it), but knowing how and when to cause chaos is a deeply helpful and necessary skill. Portland won’t be laughing if Smith misses out on the Cascadia rivalry game against Seattle, but long term, it could be an interesting development.

Despite the rain, 35,038 filled the stands at Wrigley Field to watch the Red Stars take on Bay FC, setting the new NWSL standalone regular season attendance record. While the 2-1 loss wasn’t what the home team hoped for, by every other measure this was a massive success for the Red Stars, even if the match was just a one-off event for now.



Chicago Red Stars break NWSL attendance record at Wrigley Field

In terms of one-offs, it was an impressive win for owner Laura Ricketts and the rest of the investment group. The game outdrew the USWNT’s 2019 match in the city at Soldier Field, which was Jill Ellis’ final match as head coach. And while it’s always easier to sell tickets for a big game rather than the week-in, week-out grind of a regular season, Saturday’s match was a valuable data point in proving the viability of the Red Stars and the crucial importance of accessibility.

Ricketts and the Red Stars know their reality, with a lease for SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview through 2025, but they’ve balanced that with a campaign for public funding for women’s sports infrastructure. There’s still no apparent solution in sight, but if nothing else, the Red Stars have a hell of a first slide on their deck now, while they round up sponsors and support moving forward.

The work isn’t done yet, but let’s take a moment to embrace what’s been accomplished. Even a year ago, an NWSL attendance record would have felt impossible in Chicago. Plus, this year, we saw one of the league’s new media partners flex their investment, with ION stepping up and bringing the studio show to Wrigley Field and adding additional cameras (including some great drone work).

Hopes were high for the Red Stars this weekend and, match result aside, they met the moment.


Sinead Farrelly leaves the game better than she found it

Gotham FC midfielder Sinead Farrelly announced her retirement from professional soccer, following a season-ending injury due to post-concussive syndrome. While the ending isn’t what she imagined, Farrelly finds peace in how she is leaving the game.

“I’m leaving this sport in such a different place than I obviously was before, and want to share how positive this ending has been,” Farrelly told The Athletic on Thursday. “I’m feeling so at peace and grateful for my experience, and I’m just lucky that I even had this opportunity to do this again.”



Sinead Farrelly retires: ‘I want to share how positive this ending has been’

Farrelly and her teammate Mana Shim were the key players in an extensive investigation into former Courage and Thorns coach Paul Riley, who was accused of sexual coercion and harassment spanning multiple teams and leagues dating back to 2010. Their story, along with others, resulted in two in-depth external investigations, policy changes, and sweeping changes to the league’s culture and ownership.

The Athletic’s investigation into what Farrelly called the “institutional betrayal” of the NWSL was published in September 2021. By July 2022, Farrelly had decided she wanted to play soccer again, starting to run and lift again, hiring a trainer, and starting to play pick-up. She eventually signed with Gotham last year and ended the 2023 season as an NWSL champion, with a trip to the World Cup with earlier that year.

“It wasn’t until when I came back this year that I’ve been able to really be along for the ride, but feeling so stable and who I am and just healed in a lot of ways,” she said. “I worked through so much of the stuff that I needed to work through last year, just even the normal pressures of being in this culture. I just felt like I could show up every day in my own energy, and I was happy.”

Read Meg’s interview with Farrelly here.

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(Top photo: Katelyn Mulcahy, USA TODAY Sports)

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